Imagine a sponge. When dry, it is stiff and not easily bent. Passively, as it takes in water, it becomes pliable, resilient, able to be coerced into a different position. It can withstand a good, solid wringing because it has the support of the moisture within it, strengthening its fibers.
One cannot make a sand castle from mere sand. Moisture is required to hold its form, to keep it in place. Herbal remedies with a moistening quality help to increase flexibility and mobility of the body. They are often used when there is stiffness, tension, tightness or constriction due to a lack of fluids thus allowing there to be pliancy.
Again, my 5th and 6th graders were learning last term about solutions. In order to make a solution, you need a solute (some solid substance) and a solvent (some liquid) in which to dissolve the solute. These combine to make a solution. Water (or another solvents) is required to dissolve and assimilate the solvent. Applying this to our bodies, if we start out in a dehydrated or dry tissue state, our tissues do not have the moisture required to absorb nutrients. This dehydration of the tissues also stymies the natural flow of toxins out of the body as well. Dry tissues leads to stagnation. This stagnation can be a result of a lack of water or oils. Oils are of particular importance for the endocrine system as many of our hormones are soluble in fat or oils and thus, require them for transportation through the body.
To quote Matthew Wood again:
“[Damp in the first degree] causes substances to move through internal passages. Second degree moistens and lubricates surfaces. Third degree reduces hardness. Fourth degree nourishes the flesh.”
According to Materia Medica Monthly:
“We can see here that agents which are moistening help to lubricate and moisten the passageways of the body so nutrients and toxins can be moved through more effectively. We also see that from an excess of dryness there can be a hardening of the tissues which is softened by a moist remedy (this is the true definition of an emollient remedy- softening hardness). When dryness gets to a critical state, tissues can become malnourished and atrophic, thus they can help to directly nourish the flesh and rebuild a weakened and deficient tissue, organ or system. Moistening remedies are contraindicated anytime there are signs of dampness accumulated within the system. This could be nausea, edema, swellings, damp cough, damp/lax urinary tract infections, or other general damp signs like a swollen damp coated tongue.“
Most plants with moistening qualities are demulcents, an action which moistens dryness. Other herbs with a moistening quality move fluid through tissues and out, thus moistening tissues as they expel fluid from the body. Not all moistening herbs are slimy, but most have a recognisable sweetness or meatiness and often are oily.
Herb Primary Organ System
Aloe (Aloe vera) digestive
American Ginseng (Panax quinqefolius) systemic
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) respiratory
Burdock (Arctium lappa) lymphatics, skin (oils)
Chickweed (Stellaria media) systemic
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) digestive
Cleavers (Gallium aparine) urinary tract
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) mucosal membranes
Dragonroot (Smilacina racemosa) joints
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) digestive
Goji berries (Lycium barbarum) systemic
Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) respiratory
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) respiratory
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) mucosal membranes
Milky Oats seed (Avena sativa) nerves
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) respiratory, joints
Plantain (Plantago major) mucosal membranes
Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) respiratory, joints
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) respiratory, lymphatics
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) mucosal membranes, systemic
Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) mucosal membranes
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.) joints
Sweet Cicely (Osmorrhiza occidentalis) respiratory
1. Joint pain; stiffness
2. Tension, stress
3. Muscle pain
4. Gastrointestinal disorders; constipation
5. Mental illness, anxiety, depression
6. Dry skin, hair
7. Lethargy; tiredness; lack of motivation
Of course, your natural energetic state as well as your acute energetic state should be taken into consideration when choosing herbs of a moistening nature. Adding damp to a person exhibiting accumulated dampness would exacerbate the problem.
During cold and flu season, your respiratory tissue state will help you to identify the right herb to use as a remedy.